On wishing-wells (and the irony of pessimistic idealism)

January 6, 2012 at 6:09 am (People I have known, Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, a wise friend of mine spoke to me openly about her own marriage. She has been married longer than Brett and I. It was SO refreshing to hear her voice her own struggles, to hear her speak about some of the things most of us married folk never even voice out loud cos “how could we even be thinking that!”, and to have some of it comfortingly resonate with what I have felt and struggled with. So thank you to honest, open, say-it-like-it-is, older and wiser, married folk who debunk the myths of marriage without degrading its worth!

One thing she spoke about which really struck me is how sometimes we look at our spouse and are so easily able to spot the flaws and the weaknesses and even wish a little that they were “more this” or “less that”.  She has learned over the years that some of the things she wishes her spouse was “more of” do not exist precisely because of some of the other things she loves and cherishes and values in him.

I like this cartoon about Elly the Elephant because, as much as the last two frames of it kind of kick marriage, I think it drives home a hugely valuable lesson that “looking for a partner”, “trying to decide whether to commit to a partner”, and “learning to love a partner better” people can (and SHOULD) all learn as quickly as possible. Sometimes the very things we love in our partners preclude some other things. That is, exactly because they are one way, they are not necessarily going to be some of those other things we may also want/like.  I love that Brett doesn’t care about what people think about him. But I struggle to do the same. And so sometimes I get embarrassed when he goes to the staff party dressed in purple tights, with purple gypsy pants, a Madiba shirt, a Marvin the Martian tie, and dreadlocks under a standy-up beanie (for example, d; ). And I secretly wish he’d just dressed “normal”. But all those crazy clothes are part of the package of him not caring about what people think, and being fun and spontaneous, and making me laugh every-day-every-day, and always finding the good in people, and hoping, and bringing life into a room, and vibing with strangers and just generally not taking things too seriously (in a good way). And so maybe if he dressed more “normal” he would be a little-less all those things. And I would hate that.

So Elly the Elephant wants someone who is sensitive, but doesn’t want him to be “needy”…and one of the two has to go. She wants him to be dependable….but he might not be if he also ticks the wish-list box as “adventurous”. We want our spouse/partner/boyfriend/girlfriend to be all things to us. See, it’s not a case of “simply learning to be happy with the few avocados we have” or “being happy with the crappy partner we have” (Stephan Pastis).  It’s about realizing that maybe we have some ideals that are just idealistic. That do not recognize that we are flawed and that any partner we end up with will be just as flawed. And that some characteristics which we highly value exist to the exclusion of others that we just slightly value. And that when we turn our attention to griping about the small-value things, we lose sight of the big-value things and devalue our partner. Or we sit alone.

Tim Keller and his wife, Kathy, have written a book which B and I are reading through and “studying” together. Here’s a little something about our expectations in potential (and actual) partners:

“Today we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searcher and the searched for…it would be wrong to pin the culture’s change in attitude toward marriage fully on the male quest for physical beauty. Women have been just as affected by our consumer culture. Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are all looking for a marriage partner who will “fulfill their emotional, sexual and spiritual desires”. And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry. This is the reason so many put off marriage and look right past great prospective spouses that simply are “not good enough.”… To conduct a Me-Marriage requires two completely well adjusted, happy individuals, with very little in the way of emotional neediness of their own or character flaws that need a lot of work. The problem is – there is almost no one like that out there to marry!…In other words, some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love, and consolation.” (The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller, pp. 33-35)

I guess to paraphrase John Tierney, so often in our dating and marriages we are “determined to get more than we deserve – and to reject anyone remotely like ourselves”. The problem with all of this – the pessimistic idealism in terms of what we are looking for in a partner; and the wishing for something slightly different which just doesn’t fit with what we have – is that it makes it extremely hard to find a partner, to keep a partner, or to be partner.

As for me? I am seeking, trying (and many times failing), day-by-day, to embrace all the facets (even the hard ones and the wishing-well ones) that are integrally tied up with some of the wonderful and marvelous and highly valuable things which are intrinsically who Brett is. I’m learning that “the basket can’t hold all the avocados” and I’m pretty sure I’m not “all the avocados” myself!

Advertisements

Permalink 9 Comments

on the motivating force for justice

February 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , )

Tim Keller writes, “The Bible…provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so” (Generous Justice, p. 82).

I am struck by this. The dynamism Tim speaks of is echoed throughout scripture:

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:19-20)

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…From now on we regard noone from a worldy point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)

“You are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Our compassion for the poor, our desire to see justice done, our drive to reconcile the world to Him, our feeding of the hungry, clothing of the poor, comforting of the sick, welcoming of the foreigner, and visiting of those in prison is a profound response to all that we have received from God. Even when they are dirty and broken, deserving of their state, seemingly to “blame”, unloveable, undeserving and ungrateful – because that is exactly how we were when God LAVISHED his love on us. Our response then is a right and fitting response to the grace we have received. Our lack of response is indicative of a lack of understanding of the grace we have received. A full understanding of God’s grace COMPELS us to respond in kind to those around us. Not doing so demonstrates that we have not fully grasped God’s grace towards us. This is what James speaks of: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

“The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” (Generous Justice, p. 94)

Tim goes on to write:

“”We tend to try to develop a social conscience in Christians the same way the world does-through guilt. We tell them that they have so much and don’t they see that they need to share with those who have so little. This doesn’t work, because we have built-in defense mechanisms against such appeals. Almost noone really feels all that wealthy. Even the well-off don’t feel rich compared to the others with whom they live and work” (p. 107).

So often we give to assuage guilt about our excess. Even more often we are burdened into giving out of guilt; we are manipulated into giving and extending justice. How rarely does this flow from a true understanding of what we ourselves have received. How often is our giving, our acts of justice, COMPELLED but Christ’s love rather than by guilt and condemnation?

“When justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up” (p. 107).

Permalink 3 Comments

On bearing one another’s burdens

February 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , )

So I have been reading Generous Justice (Tim Keller)  and really just been challenged by this one section on the Good Samaritan. I will copy it out here:

“Another objection [to the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor] comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone” you usually mean “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Bibilical love requires. He writes:

We in many cases may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . .If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not likely to be releived, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?”(Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p. 70)

I feel quite convicted by this. Two other scriptures spring to mind:  “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality…” (2 Cor 8:13-14).

I know many many times I have said to beggars at street corners, Big Issue sellers, car guards, and street children, “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything.” or “I don’t have anything today.” Those are lies. Because I do have; but the truth is in those times I cannot give without taking a hit myself – without burdening myself and cutting in to how I live.

The really hard-hitting thing is that when there have been brothers and sisters, fellow Christians, even friends, who I KNOW are in a tough spot or are really struggling, I have used the exact same rationalisation. I have not helped because doing so would burden me and cut into my tight finances. I have given when I have had excess, but really, how often have I given when doing so would have meant me sharing their burdens?

Permalink 42 Comments

On public rememberance..

May 11, 2010 at 6:35 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , )

In preparation for my upcoming talk on Social Justice at church on Sunday, I have been reading a chapter by Wolterstorff entitled, “Justice in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible”.  Today, sitting in a borrowed car in the middle of one of the poorest and most destitute townships in Cape Town, I read about why social justice is so close to God’s heart. Why does God repeatedly and so emphatically enjoin Israel to render justice to the “least of these” – widows, orphans, aliens and the poor? Wolterstorff proposes two answers. Firstly they are to do it as a public rememberance or a memorial of their own deliverance, by God, from Egypt (Lev 19:33; Deut 24:7; Deut 24:21). In response to what God has done for them, and as a public testimony and memorial, they are to do likewise. Ah…the penny drops! *Unless you forgive your brother, I will not forgive you.* *The story of the merciful servant* There is a solid principal here which runs through the Bible, I believe: …  out of the forgiveness, redemption and restoration of relationship which Christ demonstrated to us, we are to forgive, redeem, and restore others. And to do so publically as a testimony of the justice which has been meted out to us in Christ.

Secondly, the bringing of justice is God’s own cause. His deliverance of Israel is but one example of His desire for and commitment to justice (Isaiah 58:6-7; Psalm 113:7-8). Israel, and by extension all who call themselves follows of Christ, was to “participate in Yahweh’s cause (abiding commitment to justice) by imitating and obeying Yahweh in pursuing justice” (p. 81). Why? Because “Yahweh loves justice”! (Isaiah 61:8; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 99:4).

“God acts justly and enjoins the doing of justice by his human creatures because God loves justice” (P. 81). This injunction is not arbitrary – rather His “pursuit of justice and Yahweh’s injunction to practice justice are grounded in Yahweh’s love”. God loves people, He DESIRES that they flourish, that they have SHALOM. Justice is indespensable to flourishing and shalom for everyone.

This excites me!

More on this… don’t want to spoil the talk on Sunday!

Permalink 4 Comments

on heroes

May 3, 2010 at 6:06 pm (Things I want to see changed, Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , , )

Husband-man and I have just, delayedly, finished Heroes Season One. As I was thinking about dreaming and the ‘individual call’ question, I think I found a pretty good analogy in the series. On Heroes, everyone is special –  each with a distinctive special ability – and most of them feel the call to “Save the World”. So they set out, on their own, to fulfill their own personal destiny. In the process they cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate all the other ‘heroes’ whose tasks, also, are to save the world. In so doing, they very nearly screw  things up entirely ending with that dismal picture of the world in five years time.

I think we tend to do that. We stand with our own unique abilities, character, talents, or giftings (if you want to use Christianese). And we set out, by ourselves, to save the world – believing that we are the destined one, the chosen one; rather than the destined ones and chosen ones. The church. And so we set out longing to hear the specific call and to see the unique path layed out before us that will lead us to “hero-hood” and saving the world. And we cut off, undermine, endanger, kill, destroy, misunderstand, question, and manipulate everyone else who is doing the same. The church.

I don’t think this is necessarily intentional or spiteful. I think it rather comes from a fundamental misunderstanding and misreading of Scripture, combined with a world-view which puts the individual at the centre and elevates self-hood. In light of these two, the quest for “God’s  individual plan for MY life” becomes completely understandable. A re-reading of Scripture, I believe, clearly demonstrates that while God does on occassion work through individuals (Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, Esther, Daniel etc), His primary concern is with the destiny and path of nations, societies, people groups and communities. Secondly, I believe that God’s overall ‘plan’ – the coming of His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven – can most efficiently, effectively, and exquisitely be achieved through individuals acting in their special capacity/ability/talent/gifting or dream IN COMMUNITY. I’ll do my little part, you do yours, and together we will have done something GREAT.

Shane Claiborne puts it this way:

Shane: Early in my youth, I spent a lot of time thinking, `What is God’s will for my life?’ You know how it goes – as if the whole universe kind of revolved around me. One day, I caught this idea from a priest: “Good things come to those who wait, but great things come to those who get off their butts and go find God at work.” That’s a very different way of thinking of things. And it’s very liberating to know that I don’t have to wait for God to write a magical formula on the wall for me, but I can look around for where God is at work and join in. Instead of staring at my sandals, I walk out my front door and look into the eyes of my neighbours.’

Sometimes it’s harder to be a part of a community than it is to just be a lone ranger or a vigilante. It can seem easier to be a soloist than part of a choir – but ultimately this is a story about community. I’ve got a quote on my wall that says, “I know you’re strong enough to do it alone, but are you strong enough to do it together?” …  Here’s another one: an old African proverb says `if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.’ In a sense, leadership is a choice to go far together rather than just to run as fast as you can on your own. Being someone who is always going fast, I am tempted to do things alone, but I have chosen to do life together. I have intentionally joined with others. Ultimately, we can do more together than I can on my own.” Excerpt from `Follow me to Freedom’ – Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins

So stop. Stop waiting for God to reveal the individual plan for your life. Find where what you have to give intersects with what the world needs. See, God ‘may’ have a specific path laid out for you (a Moses-plan if you like), but in the meantime while you are waiting for Him to reveal it to you, I think He has laid out enough general ground rules to keep you occupied – love mercy, practice justice, go into all the world, preach the good news, baptise, make disciples, love God, love people, pray unceasingly, always be ready to give an answer for the hope you have, be salt, be light, spread the aroma of Christ…. the list goes on. Find somewhere God is already at work, and join Him and the others already there. Take out your crayons, and draw. Dream.

Permalink Leave a Comment

on widening the circle…

April 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , )

This thing has grabbed me now and won’t let go. So I’m throwing the net a little wider. It now includes Landa Cope, The Old Testament Template; Brian Maclaren and Tony Campolo, Adventures in missing the point; Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs; Bell, Rethinking Justice: Restoring Our Humanity; Marshall, God’s Prodigious Justice: Yet Another Reading of the Parable of the Prodigal Son; and Miroslav Volf. I don’t know some of these people. I’ll temper it with discussion with Brett and Sean du Toit. And will throw in a bit of Shane Claiborne to keep it grounded. I’ll draw in the thoughts and debates and examples from the Lausanne Conference conversations. And read more opinions. I’ll read Proverbs. And I’ll think about Jesus and meditate on his life.

I’ll return here again and again to trace the lines and connect the dots.

Permalink Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: